Stopping the fight: Where to start?

There are two key goals with NVR work. The first is to reduce the conflict in your relationship with your child. The second is to strengthen that relationship. Reducing conflict does not mean stepping back or letting your child ‘get away with it’. NVR is about bringing the fighting in your relationship to an end.

The starting point is with you. This may come as a surprise to some parents who might believe that their child needs professional help –an anger management programme, assessment, therapy etc. While children may need professional support at some time, there is tremendous scope for parents to bring about real and lasting change themselves. If your child’s behaviour is really difficult and he or she is not co-operating with you at all, it is possible that he/she will refuse to attend appointments for assessment or therapy anyway. If this is the case, all is not lost. Your role as the child’s parent is hugely significant and can be very effective in improving your relationship. When this happens, your child might be more open to your suggestion of further supports if that is what is required.

So, the starting point is to make a commitment to look at your role in the conflict. Do you find yourself losing your temper, shouting and demanding good behaviour, threatening to take away phones, computers etc? Or perhaps you find yourself ignoring, cajoling or pleading with your child – promising rewards for good behaviour? You may be frustrated, anxious, furious – these frustrations become part of the cycle of conflict.

If you want to make a real change, you can begin by focusing on your reactions to your child’s behaviour – not the behaviour itself. In our work with parents, we ask them to list the ways in which they show their frustration or anger with their child. Most parents will include some of the above. To begin, we suggest that parents make a commitment to stop shouting, ignoring, threatening or demanding. This can be difficult – particularly when a child continues to provoke. But the message is no longer “I will make you be good”. The message now is “I will no longer accept these behaviours but I will not shout, threaten or ignore you and I will do all I can to bring this trouble to an end”. In some cases, this change is enough to make things better by breaking the cycle of conflict. If one person steps out of the fight, it will reduce the power of the struggle.

So, begin by looking at what role you play in the struggle with your child. The reality is that the ‘problem’ is not located within your child but in the patterns that have developed between you over time. This is good news. You no longer have to wait for your child to change, to be fixed or to grow up. If the problem is between you both, start with making changes yourself and you are on the way to reducing conflict and making your relationship stronger.